For most dog owners, the thought of having to carry food or toys everywhere is a turn off. Who wants smelly dog treats or soggy toys in their pockets all day? Yuck!
Well, with a bit of effort it doesn’t have to be that way. All dogs have things they LOVE to do. Luckily, in many cases, those things are actually quite safe and appropriate behaviours. So why not use those as rewards for nice behaviour? There will be a period of time when those treats and toys are a requirement as new concepts are taught, but they don’t have to be the only tools to your training toolbox.
Please may I?
Why do we teach kids to say please? Good manners? Yes, but is that the only reason? No! By teaching children to say “please” (and wait for permission) parents put access to the things kids want under THEIR control – access can then be used to reward good behaviour IF the child has the understanding that s/he needs to earn permissions.
- Sitting nicely at the dinner table? Johnny has permission to leave and watch TV.
- Behaving quietly in the supermarket? Mary has permission to choose a pack of lollies.
- Homework done without nagging needed? Lesley has permission to go to a friend’s house for the evening.
(As a nice aside, kids also learn impulse control as well as the fact that you can’t always have what you want. Occasionally the answer to ‘Please may I? is “No”.)
This is known in psychology as the Premack Principle – a less likely behaviour will be reinforced by the opportunity to engage in a more likely behaviour. Or, as some will know it, “Grandma’s Law”: eat your greens to get dessert.
So, how does this apply to our dogs?
It applies in exactly the same way! Firstly, you teach the dog what a ‘release cue’ (verbal permission to do something) means. Then you teach the dog to wait (or offer a specific behaviour such as eye contact) to be given a release cue before accessing something he wants. Finally, you generalise the concept so the dog understands to wait for their release cue to access various preferred behaviours. The great thing about this is that by using permission/release as a reward, you instantly have a huge range of potential rewards for appropriate behaviour at your disposal.
- Go outside to chase those cheeky sparrows
- Grab your toy
- Eat your treat
- Search out the hidden treasure I left for you
- Check your P-mail
- Run around like a loony thing
- Greet the visitor
- Get on the couch
- Get in the car
- Get out the car
With a bit of imagination, the list of rewards you can use is just about endless.
Examples of common release cues are:
Humans like to use different words in different contexts because we are a verbal species and if the language doesn’t make sense in the context it’s used we get confused, but to the dog, they all mean the same thing: YOU HAVE PERMISSION TO DO WHAT YOU WANTED TO DO!!
Using the Premack Principle is a key skill to having a well-behaved dog. It teaches impulse control as the dog learns to wait or offer a specific behaviour to earn access, and it puts YOU in the driving seat with heaps of ways to reward the behaviours you want to see more often.
Given that a well-behaved dog is a dog that has more opportunities for fun and enrichment, training manners and impulse control is a win-win all round!
– Sarah and the Gang
PS Want to read more like this? Find out how here.
PPS. New to using food in training? Find out how to use it effectively by downloading the HotDogs guide, Top Tips for Food Use.
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